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The World’s Next Big Problem?

23 Oct


The world has some big problems. We have shown we aren’t very adept at scrambling to deal with crises once we’ve reached the point of no return (see global warming), so maybe we should get a head start on the next disaster?

I recently read an interview of a doctor that says we’ve reached the end of antibiotics. There are bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics known to man. This is bad.

Every time bacteria is exposed to an antibiotic, there is the chance that it will become resistant to it. When you have another antibiotic to try (there are thousands), this isn’t horrible, just try the next one. But we’ve now reached the end of the line where some “super-bugs” have shown resistance to every antibiotic humans have discovered.

The reason I got to thinking about this is the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room was cleaned by a hazmat crew after their game this week. Why? Several of their players have had MRSA, which is a highly resistant bacteria, and they don’t want it spreading to anyone else.

Typically this antibiotics problem is limited to hospitals. Someone gets a nasty wound and bacteria climbs on in. In the last 50 years with antibiotics, people rarely die from this. We could simply kill the bacteria with antibiotics. This opened up a world of new possibilities, everything from organ transplants, chemotherapy, and more. Basically any treatment that weakens your immune system is less of a concern when have antibiotics to treat infections.

Now we are seeing bacteria resistant to all antibiotics known to man. We are also seeing these nasty bacteria away from hospitals. (Apparently these bacteria are football fans just like the rest of us. They probably have a fantasy team that benefited by keeping a few Buccaneers players out of games.) But we are still in the early stages, no need to get all worked up yet. But what happens when there are more-and-more super-bugs out there? What happens when going to the hospital is too dangerous? Should we start thinking about this now?

Let’s turn to solving the problem. First, we need to slow down the creation of these super-bacteria by using less antibiotics. In the meantime, we also need to create some new antibiotics we can use.

Creating new antibiotics

According to the interview linked above, the low hanging fruits have been discovered. It has become more difficult and expensive to discover new antibiotics. It doesn’t make sense financially for the drug companies to spend time working on this. Antibiotics sales bring in a pittance and there is too much money to be made by continuously selling you a drug that lowers your blood pressure. We need to fix these incentives or ramp up government funded efforts.

Using less antibiotics

We need to seriously cut back on antibiotic use. Less preventative use as well as saving certain strains for our last resort. I don’t know much about how they are used in humans, but the obvious place to cut back is for factory farmed animals. 30 millions pounds of antibiotics are used on US animals each year, compared to 8 million pounds for humans. Supply and demand at its worst – with so many carnivores demanding meat, this is one of the consequences. Here’s a short excerpt from the interview:

I’d like to ask you about the use of antibiotics for farm animals. I know a large share of the antibiotics produced in this country is used in agriculture. Do you see problems there? Is that generating resistance as well as the use for humans?

We know that the use of antibiotics in any setting, and especially the overuse of antibiotics in any setting, is an issue that will generate resistance, that will lead to problems of resistance. That applies as much for human use as it does for animal use.

Do you think that if they’re used for animals, there’s actually a pathway to resistance that is a threat to human health?

I think there is. There have been a number of studies that show that when you give antibiotics to animals, especially to animals that we then eat, there are antibiotics that get into their systems that can develop resistance, and then when we eat the food, we can be exposed to those resistant organisms.

We also know that if antibiotics are used in animal feed that they can end up in animal waste, so we can end up with antibiotics in our water supplies, and it’s that type of low-level presence of antibiotics that can also lead to issues with resistance.

Do you think we have enough data to know what’s happening with the antibiotics used on the farm?

I think we know enough to say that we need to be doing a better job of improving appropriate use of antibiotics in all sectors, humans and animals.

But the agriculture sector is different, because antibiotics have been used there for a long time with an eye toward improving the growth of the animals, really for food purposes, to make them bigger and fatter with less food. Does that concern you as a use?

Certainly the CDC believes quite firmly, and I think there are a number of veterinary experts here and in other places who agree with the stance that we should never be using antibiotics in agriculture or in people for any other purpose than to treat infections.

Using antibiotics to promote growth in animals is not a good use of antibiotics. It’s not careful use of this really delicate and invaluable resource.

Check out How Using Antibiotics In Animal Feed Creates Superbugs for some more deets.

It’s amazing how I tie everything back to “you should be a vegetarian”. It reminds me of the standup Jerry Seinfeld does in The Shower Head:

“Yeah, I got some family backstage. Course my family’s nuts; they’re crazy. Yep. My uncle Leo, I had lunch with him the other day, he’s one of these guys that anything goes wrong in life, he blames it on anti-Semitism. You know what I mean, the spaghetti’s not al dente? Cook’s an anti-Semite. Loses a bet on a horse. Secretariat? Anti-Semitic. Doesn’t get a good seat at the temple. Rabbi? Anti-Semite.”

Hopefully mine’s not quite as irrational …


Shifting Paradigms

30 Jan

Paradigm is a short word that has the intimidation factor of a much longer word. It’s one of those that we know the meaning of, but can’t put into words particularly well. So let’s start with getting on the same page with the meaning, I’m going for the third entry in Websters:

a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

A cognitive framework if you will. A way of thinking. This gained meaning for me in a class at Stanford called Programming Paradigms. Simply put, there are many different ways to achieve a desired outcome in programming. There are different ways to think about how to approach solving the problem. This is why different programming languages are useful – they can enable these different ways of thinking. Everything is an object. Or everything is a list.

Paradigms certainly aren’t limited to programming however. I think they should be more widely used in our every day lives. The right mindset has the potential to offer a better solution to our problems, but more importantly having the flexibility to shift paradigms gives us the ability to empathize. If you are unable to shift your perspective, you will never truly understand how someone believes what they do.

Thought exercises should be a part of our education to promote an open minded population. Simply having an open minded population would solve so many of our problems. The goal for these exercises is to keep an open mind for a set period of time, not to ultimately believe it.

Here are some mind blowing thoughts to try out:

  • The world is a computer simulation, as explored in the Matrix. You and your independent decisions are really just a program that is able to learn and grow. Scientifically there could be some validity to this. The laws of physics break down at the smallest margins. Any simulation has a limit to how many calculations can be made, and the result would look like what physicists have observed. What would this mean? Would this change anything?
  • Democrats’ willingness for the government to help the poor and less fortunate are selfishly unloading the job on someone else so that they personally don’t have to do it and don’t feel guilty. What pieces of evidence can be used to support this? How do personal feelings get in the way?
  • That money has no real meaning. It has value because we all agree that it does, but if that were to change, what would happen? If only a handful of people realized this, what would change? Would those people be better or worse off?
  • 1984 and the Hunger Games feature worlds that appear completely unrealistic. But if one of those societies is the ending point, and today’s society is the beginning, what would the path look like to get there? Have we already started on that path? Can you defend that argument?
  • There is a limit to how many people the earth can support – one day that limit will be hit and the leaders of the world will realize it. The days of parents deciding how many children they want to have are limited. What will the warning signs of this limit look like? How far past the limit will we blow past until it gets to the point of controlling births? How will it feel having this aspect of your life controlled?


Hopefully at least one of those blew your mind. If I were in charge of education, how would I implement these thought exercises? Introduce these ideas and form small groups to explore them. Then have each person come up with a 2-3 minute argument supporting the case. Basically everyone practices defending the pro side of a radical argument. Someday it will be important to understand why the crazies believe what they do.


If You’re Not Taking Risks You’re Letting Time Pass

21 Nov

I like to occasionally examine my comfort in life in different areas, especially socially and professionally. And it’s not because I want to make sure I’m nice and comfy – quite the opposite. If I’m not pushing my comfort zone in these areas then I’m not growing. If I’m not growing then I’m content with mediocrity. If I’m content with mediocrity then I’m letting time pass and simply waiting out my days left on this planet.


New Zealand is full of some serious hiking and with serious hikes come seriously long conversations. On day 4 of 5 at Abel Tasman Tom, Jess, and I were ranking our favorite years at Stanford. This was very hard considering we had more fun than is legal. Seriously, some of the stuff was illegal. By examining my 4 years, there was one that comparatively stood out as the worst – my sophomore year. The year before I had established my friends and gotten to know my team and fraternity. And then I comparatively coasted socially through sophomore year, not branching out as much, sticking more to my comfort zone.

I’m not the most outgoing person in the world, but I’ve come to realize that it makes me happy to make new friends. Even though I love my current friends and it might be uncomfortable, I know that I am much happier when I push my comfort zone socially.


Professionally it is also extremely important to constantly learn new things and take risks. If you’re not innovating then someone else is. If you’re not learning new skills and making yourself replaceable in your current role, someone else will. There’s no such thing as staying in the same place. If you’re not advancing those around you are, meaning you’re going backwards.

Two years ago in NYC I shared a cab with a guy from the hotel all the way out to the airport. In rush hour. It took almost 2 hours to get there so I got to know the guy pretty well (and unfortunately can no longer claim I’ve never missed a flight). His career advice: get fired at least once. This wasn’t coming from a slacker – dude knew what’s up. His reasoning: you have to pursue your ideas with gusto in order to make it to the top. You might get fired for having ideas that clash with management or taking too big of risks. So be it. There will be another company that will value the mistakes of action of a young go-getter.

I suppose the guy in the cab took this principle to the extreme. Taking risks is good, pushing the comfort zone is great. But let’s not get too crazy about it! The best way I’ve found to look at it – how comfortable am I? Am I being challenged?

Other areas this applies: physically, financially. More?


It’s Been One Year Since Dropping My Job Like a Bad Habit

26 Oct

What a year it has been! It’s been all about challenging assumptions, shifting paradigms, and setting up the life I want. Let’s take a look at a few areas.


I spent my first significant time out of the country. And loved it. I don’t know that I’ll be satisfied with 1 or 2 week vacations ever again.

Tim Ferriss wrote about “mini-retirements” in the 4 Hour Workweek. Yes, the book is about bigger ideas than just outsourcing. It’s about crafting the life you want to live. Making it a reality. Here are a couple interviews about the mini-retirments: Using Mini-Retirements to Get More Out of Life and How to Take a Mini-Retirement: Tips and Tricks.

We all envy teachers who get the summer off (or at least part of it). Here’s what you’re thinking: “wow, wouldn’t it be great to have 2 or 3 back to back months off work? Every year!” Would you agree with this statement: I’d rather make $60,000 and have 3 months off than $80,000 working the whole year. Yes, obviously. Well guess what – no one is going to just hand it to you. You have to go out and make it happen. (And don’t tell me you could live on 25% less money – you might have to make some changes but wouldn’t it be worth 3 months off a year?)


I think it’s really awesome that I am earning a living on my own. Yes, I realize as an employee you do in fact have to earn your pay, but it’s different. You are dependent upon a company, which is dependent upon customers. I am dependent upon customers directly. Kind of like in the old days before corporations. Or like a fixie biker (a purist removing the middle man).

But I don’t necessarily think jobs are bad. Heck, I still think I’ll have a traditional job again some day. Boy will it be different though! It will be because I want to be there, not because of money, career advancement, or even because you’re supposed to have a job. It would have to be a situation where I really believe in what we are building and the team / company are in a position to make it a reality.


Goals are a whole lot easier to meet when you feel in control of your life. With this new power you might even set some goals!


It’s hard to realize how toxic an environment is until you remove yourself from it. My frustrations at work built up over time, but they were gradual enough that it wasn’t enough that I didn’t make any drastic moves. Just like the frog that slowly gets boiled to death, I did not jump out of my job. I wasn’t able to notice the significant impact this had on the other areas of my life.


Sports are Cool – The Oakland Athletics Edition

3 Oct

Today the Oakland Athletics won the American League West. There are so many cool things about this, I don’t know where to start. I guess we’ll start at the beginning of the season.

Going into the season, the Texas Rangers have played in back to back World Series, had a $121 million dollar payroll, and are expected to win the division. But then in the Angels went on an offseason spending spree because they were tired of losing to Texas. They came in to the season with a $155 million dollar payroll and ready to finally knock off the Rangers. No one bothered to discuss the Athletics.

The Athletics were thought by the experts to be rebuilding. In the offseason they traded away their top two starting pitchers. And their closer. Basically they traded away everyone good for a bunch of players with very little major league experience. They came into the season with a $49 million dollar payroll – the smallest of all 30 major league teams.

And yet they kept winning games. They are so young they don’t even realize they aren’t supposed to win these games. They finished the season with 5 rookies making up their starting rotation. Somehow they went 94-68, finishing ahead of the Rangers (who they swept 3 straight to end the season) and Angels.

One more amazing thing to leave you with: today is the FIRST day of the entire year that they have been alone in first place. Finally, after 162 games they made it. Good time to end the season.

If you want more cool baseball stuff, check out this old post.